Whitaker follows in his father’s footsteps
Winning a silver medal in the team jumping event at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018 was poetic for British equestrian athlete Jack Whitaker, whose father Michael won team silver 34 years ago in Los Angeles.
He’s heard the stories and watched the videos, but in Buenos Aires Jack Whitaker got to feel for himself what competing at an Olympic event is all about.
As the son of five-time Olympian Michael Whitaker, who won a silver medal with Great Britain at Los Angeles 1984, Jack has the Games in his DNA, and now has a silver medal to match his father’s after Europe finished runners-up in the innovative, continental team jumping event at Club Hípico Argentino. Following the conclusion of the individual finals on 13 October, Whitaker told us all about his memorable YOG experience….
How pleased are you with your performances at Buenos Aires 2018?
The individual competition was a little bit disappointing but we won a silver medal in the team event, so I couldn’t have asked for much better really. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in this sport; you get very good highs and a lot of lows, which is something I’m getting used to.
What has it been like to compete here in Buenos Aires?
[Club Hípico Argentino] is a really nice venue. You don’t get many nicer grass rings than this, and I prefer grass as I think horses jump better off it when the ground is good. There have been a lot more people here than I was expecting and the weather’s been fantastic, so it’s been a really good week, atmosphere-wise. The restaurant here is pretty good as well!
Was it challenging to compete on a horse you’d never ridden before?
It was something that was very new to me. This week was the first time I’ve ridden [L V Chance Luck] so I had to get used to the horse quickly, but I felt like we got to know each other fairly well. He got a bit tired towards the end of the week and a bit lazy, but I felt we created quite a good bond.
How did you find it competing alongside other athletes from Europe in the continental team event?
We knew each other from competing abroad on the European circuit, so there was a good team spirit. We jump the same courses, and a week before the YOG four of us were in Belgium together for the same event. We knew what we had to do – and we came second, which was a really nice [17th] birthday present! There was a fantastic atmosphere at the venue, so it was a great way to celebrate.
How has your YOG experience been away from the field of play?
I’ve made a lot of new friends. There’s a real sense of community inside the Youth Olympic Village and the residential halls, and also outside the Village, where the camaraderie and sportsmanship between the athletes from all the different sports and countries is very good. Apart from one night, when the guys in my room took the frame out of my bed without telling me. When I jumped on it I fell right through!
What have been the highlights?
Watching the Opening Ceremony was a cool experience, and we also had a go at the Performance Accelerator in the Youth Olympic Village – that was something a bit different and it was cool to see our results. The FEI’s Focus Day was really interesting too – especially listening to [Athlete Role Model] Luciana Diniz. We also had a talk with a course builder, and learned about social media and clean sport. The [YOG] definitely helps us to prepare for the senior Olympics and future competitions, and educates us so that we know exactly what we’ve got to do to be clean athletes.
Did your father give you any advice before the YOG?
He told me not to do too much with the horse at the beginning of the week: to keep it nice and relaxed, let it do what it likes to do, and make sure it likes me so I can build that bond. [My Dad and I] have been talking regularly while I’ve been out here, and he was the first person I called after I won the silver medal. He’s the boss, so he wants to know!
Do you hope to emulate him by competing at the Olympic Games one day?
Absolutely. Getting to the Olympics would be the big goal, and there are a few other big competitions within the sport that I want to compete at too. Tokyo 2020 is too soon, but Paris 2024 is more likely. If I could do half as well as my Dad did then I’d be very pleased with how my equestrian career would have gone.